After reading Baron and Davis’ chapter about Lazarsfeld’s study and conclusions regarding the limited effects theory, I could not help but immediately think of my short-lived semester as a politics major. Lazarsfeld was one of the most memorable readings for me as we discussed the influence of media in swaying voters to commit to a candidate. One of the central findings of Lazarsfeld’s study was that those who are involved, curious, and knowledgable about politics are the ones who tend to have a candidate chosen from the onset of an election. These people, labeled “early deciders,” are also the ones who follow the media the most. Rather than seeking the media for information that will help them arrive at a decision, “early deciders” use the media as a tool to help bolster their reasoning for supporting one candidate and opposing another. Those who are less informed and apathetic, typically the “waverers” or “converts,” would arrive at their decision based mostly on the seeking of advice and information from those whom they thought were more knowledgable, the “early deciders,” instead of consulting the media. Thus, the limited effects theory is important in presenting one of media’s core purposes: the communication and reaffirmation of established public beliefs. One of the most obvious examples of the limited effects theory today can be seen in political cable news channels, especially in Fox and MSNBC. If you were to survey cable news viewers of which channel they watch, their political affiliation, and for whom they voted in the last three presidential elections, the information clearly aligns: conservatives choose Fox, and liberals choose MSNBC. Viewers choose to watch media that align with their political beliefs, not media that challenges those beliefs. While both channels bring in panelists of “opposing” viewpoints, they are not invited to persuade the viewers or balance the conversation as much as they are to help make the station appear balanced and to entice the audience. The truth of both Fox and MSNBC is that they work to reaffirm and perpetuate the views already held by their viewers. Thus, media certainly does have an effect, but it is in the promotion and continuation of where our society already stands more than the tremendous altering and influence of our beliefs.
Baron and Davis: On Lazarsfeld and The Limited Effects Theory